4 Effective Psychological Strategies to Help you Handle ‘Online Classes’ Anxiety
And how you can apply them in your life
I have been attending online classes since July 2020. The heartwrenching possibility is that the online mode would continue to go on till April 2021 when I will be done with my Master’s program.
The grief of losing my last year of college fun, combined with the anxiety stemming from being unable to attend the class in person and losing out on a lot of learning opportunities has turned the online classes to be no less than a terrible experience.
Adding to this, it has robbed away the possibility of living in a new city and exploring new places.
Unfortunately, I am not the only one who is suffering.
According to two major surveys, about 75% and 85% of college students are facing ongoing stress and anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak and campus closures.
The three major causes identified for the stress are uncertainty regarding the future, struggling with the coursework, and the difficulties due to remote learning.
In another study conducted in Texas, 89% reported lack of concentration, 86% talked about poor sleeping habits and 82% showed concerns for their academic performance.
As mentioned by a college student,
“We are all missing out on so many mundane social interactions: walking between classes with friends, a chat with the barista at your favorite coffee place, small talk with your professor before class starts. These little interactions really add up, and without them, even pretty hardcore introverts are feeling isolated.”
It is clear that the pandemic has disrupted college life like nothing else. With the growing number of cases and the vaccine roll-out taking time, it is a strong possibility that some of us would graduate without attending the physical classrooms ever again.
In this situation, it becomes necessary to take a step to handle the anxiety and safeguard mental health from the negative impact of online college.
In the past couple of months, I have used 4 major coping strategies to deal with uncertainty and anxiety.
#1: The 4–7–8 Breathing Exercise
I am a big proponent of the 4–7–8 breathing exercise. It has helped me in dealing with my panic attacks and develops resilience against minor stressors in the online college.
The steps are very easy to follow.
- Start with exhaling out all the tension from your body.
- Once you feel lighter, touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Take it to the area just behind the teeth.
- Now exhale for a period of 4 seconds. Count mentally.
- Hold it in for 7 seconds.
- Exhale it for 8 seconds.
You can follow the same set for up to 4 cycles at a time. Personally, I never have to go for more than 2 cycles. The effect of the breathing exercise on my mind and the body is almost instant.
You can do a round of the breathing exercise before you start with your morning online classes and another before going to sleep.
#2: Gratitude Journaling
Gratitude journaling has become an even more significant role in my life since the lockdown began in March.
I have kept a small separate notebook for this purpose. Every morning, before I get out of bed I like to spend a duration of 15 minutes reflecting on the day and my life. This ensures that I do not go on with my day in a negative state of mind.
You can choose any prompt you like. I prefer focusing on these 3 prompts:
- Three things that made me smile this week
- Three people who helped me go through a difficult situation.
- Three things I accomplished this week.
I also like to write small notes without following any promotes where I think about the good things that have happened to me in the past.
In these difficult times, gratitude can help ease anxiety. A study was done on Chinese adults and found out that brief gratitude induction could reduce death anxiety. It is also related to a better mood, optimism, and health.
An article quotes that gratitude journaling can help you “ learn more about yourself in the process and gain a fresh perspective that allows you to recognize blessings in disguise.”
#3: Mark your spaces
After a month of online classes, I realized two things. First, I hated them. Second, my room was in utter chaos.
Since I was spending more time in my room than I ever have, I started hoarding things.
My work stuff was on my side table, so were my clothes. My laptop charger was hooked to the socket and the mobile charger was on the other. The divide between college life, and home life was absent.
As I self-reflected, I realized that the clutter was giving me immense stress. Whatever space was in my room was being taken up by the extra material which would not have been there if I had offline classes.
Even research has suggested that clutter leads to poor mental and physical health. Having too many things, and too much stimulus in the environment can lead to decreased concentration.
The first step to declutter your space is to allocate separate areas for fun, sleep, and work. In particular, while attending online classes, it is very easy to fall prey to the temptation of staying in bed the entire day.
I mentally marked areas in the room for different purposes. The desk area became the college area, while the bed was the rest area. I even turned my living room into a social zone where I would connect to my friends.
This ensured that I was not limiting all the different spheres of my life to just a small area.
#4: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an effective tool to calm your body and distress the muscles. It has been found to be doing wonders for depression and anxiety as well.
It has been defined as “involving alternating tension and relaxation in all of the body’s major muscle groups.”
Since your mind is not the only place where tension is stored, your stress can make your muscles sore as well.
For me, when I was stressed, my shoulders and jaw immediately get tensed. If I am extremely worried, my body tends to hurt a lot after some time. It is very similar to the soreness that comes from going to the gym for the first time.
PMR allows you to relax your body parts, one by one. All you need to do is to find a spot where you can lie down.
Once comfortable, start from the top to the bottom. Clench your forehead for a duration of 15 seconds. Then, slowly release the tension for 30 seconds.
Repeat this for all the body parts, starting from the forehead, jaw, shoulders, arms, hands, butt, thighs, and feet.
By the end, you would feel that your entire body has become relaxed. Sometimes, I even fell asleep after going through the exercise.
As beginners, you can refer to this audio from McMaster University to guide your process. This would help you to focus your entire attention on the process.
As much as I criticize the online mode of education for its inaccessibility and the negative impact on student’s mental health, the fact remains that it is going to stay with us for the unforeseeable future.
The only thing we can do is safeguard ourselves.
There are no only 4 ways of dealing with ‘online class’ anxiety. You can adopt a combination of several techniques based on your circumstances and preference.
However, these techniques have helped me immensely in dealing with the classes. I hope they do so for you as well.